Spare a thought for some of the unfortunates who may be facing a summer without a break in Berlin. The Bundestag has been detained by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which has ordered a complete overhaul of the German parliament's European policy. In the autumn, the Bundestag will have to be more efficient, more transparent, and more democratic. In the future, the German parliament must exert a greater influence on EU decisions. Not only will it have to supervise the political machine in Brussels, but also the German presence in the capital of Europe, the phantom Ministry for European Affairs.

But who, you might be forgiven for asking, is responsible for European policy in Berlin? Who will be subject to greater supervision under the court ruling? Politics in Berlin is a complicated business — at least, with regard to Europe. The federal capital has been Brusselized: decision making bodies are widely dispersed, and many different groups are involved at every stage of a process that is necessarily complex. Virtually every ministry has its own European secretary, and virtually every political issue has a European dimension. The Bundestag already has an input on European affairs, as does the Bundesrat, which represents the German Länder (states) and their regional interests — and spokespersons from 1,400 working groups, committees and coordinating bodies to and fro between Brussels and the federal capital. If there ever is a European Affairs Ministry in Berlin, it will be absolutely enormous.

The federal government wants to implement a European policy even in the absence of a Ministry for European Affairs — at least that is the official line. "Often, we do not reach an agreement on a common position in time, and Germany is forced to abstain in Brussels," admits Joachim Würmeling, a former Secretary of State for the European Union in the Federal Ministry for Economics. Brussels has even invented a term to describe the slow paced reaction in Berlin — a "German vote" is now accepted Eurocrat jargon for an abstention by a member state whose government has been unable to achieve a consensus.

Institional imbroglio

Too often decisions have become enmired on the level of Berlin versus Berlin. Is this what the Bundestag is now mandated to oversee? Bureaucrats are often critical of the German parliament: as one German civil servant put it, the Bundestag has a reputation for "hard work, and wanting to know everything, but it doesn't play any role in day-to-day politics," explains an expert on negotiations within the EU. "Now, we will have to adapt to an added dimension of complexity, which will not necessarily be better for Germany." The same expert goes on to cite the example of the EU climate package. The position adopted by the German parliament during the climate talks in Brussels was expressly opposed to any concessions or amendments in response to requests from energy intensive industries. Some time later, when the leaders of the EU's member states reached a compromise, Poland made its agreement conditional on concessions of precisely that kind — and Germany accepted the deal. Angela Merkel went ahead and ignored the Bundestag veto, justifying her decision on the basis of reasons of external policy and integration. At the time, she was empowered to do so. However, if the government had been bound to abide by the Bundestag vote to the extent advocated by the CSU (the Bavarian conservative party, which is the sister party of Merkel's CDU), the compromise on the climate package would probably have been undermined by Germany.

But how exactly will the members of the Bundestag decide on matters of European policy and exert a more judicious influence on an imaginary Ministry of European Affairs? It is worth bearing in mind that the greatest success achieved by the German presidency of the European Council resulted from secret inter-governmental negotiations that led to the Berlin Declaration, which in turn paved the way for the Lisbon Treaty. Only a handful of critics came forward to condemn this procedure. In essence, they argued that the future of Europe should be developed within the framework of public parliamentary debate and that government should not determine important matters of state in shadowy conference calls. In response, their opponents immediately drew attention to the fact that the treaty was still being debated. Whatever about the pros and cons of this controversy, it is clear that the balance between an efficient executive and active democratic representation is a delicate one — and with regard to European policy, this is more than ever the case.